(Continuing my reflections on Psalm 137 from the other day…)
To add insult to injury, the Jews’ Babylonian captors demand to hear some of music the Jews were famous for singing in their temple. The demand is hurtful and offensive – hurtful in that recalling those old songs only make the Jews longingly yearn for home and offensive in how these pagans reduce Israel’s sacred hymnody to just another entertainment option from which to choose depending on their mood.
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
The question betrays emotions: How can our callous tormentors expect songs of joy from grief-filled, homesick slaves? For the Israelites, “the joyful harp is silent.”
But it is also a theological question: What does it look like to “sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” The Law of Moses and Israel’s hymnody were created with the tabernacle and, later, the temple in mind. But they are destroyed, and Jerusalem – the centre of Israelite worship – “is left in ruins; its gate is battered to pieces.” Having been deaf to the prophets’ warnings, nothing has prepared Israel for this scenario, leaving them disoriented and confused. They not only do not want to sing their old songs of praise, they’re not even sure how to do that in their present context.
I can hear myself and others substituting the words “foreign land” for other types of hard places. “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while grieving? while depressed? while struggling with sexual disorder? while dealing with zero self esteem? while questioning a vocational calling? while deep in doubt?”
The questions are not answered in Psalm 137 – evidence of how the Bible does not first of all give us all the answers, but rather preserves all the good questions! That the questions are not easily answered invites me to sit in silence before the Lord, not asking Him to explain or fix anything, but simply asking Him to be present with me in my confusion.
(To be concluded.)